As part of joining the Cal Lutheran community, all first-year students are asked to complete a common reading. The choice for the fall semester is Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate, a coming-of-age memoir that reflects on both personal memory and the history of a people.
Author Peter Balakian will be visiting campus early in the fall semester; you will get to meet him during his evening presentation on Tuesday, September 17. The Freshman Seminar sections will be exploring his memoir throughout the semester, using it as an occasion to work together on what it means to join our academic and campus community. Please be sure to read the book well before your arrival on campus in late August.
To prepare for our work in the fall semester, your seminar leaders have posed some questions for you to think about, as you read the book and anticipate discussing it in class:
- What is the specific narrative origin of the title Black Dog of Fate, and what meanings does it suggest to you as you reflect on the significance of the book?
- As you read the book, what specific memories and stories seem to be the most important ones for Balakian’s emerging understanding of himself, his family, and his people? When you think about your own life thus far, what key memories and stories stand out for you as truth tellers about your personal, familial, and ethnic identity?
- The “Reader’s Guide” at the end of the book mentions the author’s use of various metaphors to discover the elusive truth about his past. Balakian, for instance, comments that uncovering his past was somewhat like examining a “worn rug” that contains patches where the original pattern is clear, and holes in which his own active inquiry must fill in the gaps. He sees the past as “ruptured,” requiring that “one excavates the shards.” As you read the book, look for such metaphors, and reflect on what Balakian may be suggesting about the process of understanding–in both a personal dimension, and a larger historical dimension. How might Balakian’s perspective apply to our own particular circumstances, as individuals, and as members of various communities and historical traditions?
- What insights and practical strategies does this book offer us, so that we can become more actively engaged in understanding the past? How might these insights and strategies inform both our coursework and our campus involvement at Cal Lutheran?
- What challenges does Balakian encounter in finding his purpose in life? In what ways does this book serve as a model for our journey of finding a purpose, a calling, a vocation?
Past Summer Readings
- 2012: Rodes Fishburne, Going to See the Elephant
- 2011: Sonia Nazario, Enrique's Journey
- 2010: Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer
- 2009: Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
- 2008: Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor was Divine
- 2007: Jonathan Safron Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close